Four weeks in Kinsale with a car gave us the opportunity to explore many of Ireland’s treasures, both famous and hidden.
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The Burren and the Cliffs of Mohrer
I drove to Shannon Airport to pick up my sister and my son after their overnight flight from Florida. I recommended that we immediately take a detour to see two of the greatest natural wonders on earth: The Burren and the Cliffs of Mohrer in County Clare. Shannon Airport was as close as they’d get to these must-see places during their stay, so jet-lagged or not, they elected to go north before heading south to Kinsale and to bed.
The Burren (pronounced “burn”) is almost a hundred square miles of rocky karst landscape. During Oliver Cromwell’s brutal campaign of oppression and terror in Ireland, one of his generals was sent to scout the area. He came back and reported, “It is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him.”
Even here, life seems to find a way to soften the desolate landscape…
…and the tenacious Irish have always found a way to eke a living out of even the most inhospitable regions.
Near where the Burren meets the sea are the majestic Cliffs of Mohrer. The scale of this view is hard to depict in a photograph. The cliffs rise a sheer vertical distance of 390 feet from the churning Atlantic below.
The tiny white specks in this photo are shorebirds, oddly soaring below you.
Birds roost on the cliffs, the image softened by the ever-present mist.
We took a day trip from Kinsale to Cobh (pronounced “cove”), about half-an-hour east of Cork. Cobh is a port city, famous as the last bit of Ireland many would ever see, and for its association with at least two maritime disasters.
Cobh was the departure point for 2.5 million of the six million Irish people who emigrated to North America between 1848 and 1950. This statue commemorates Annie Moore and her brothers, the first people to enter the US through the immigration center at Ellis Island, New York.
At the time known as Queenstown, Cobh was the final port of call for the RMS Titanic when she set out across the Atlantic on her maiden voyage in 1912. Final passengers to board the ill-fated ship left from this pier in Cobh. My sister and son enjoyed Cobh’s “Titanic Experience,” becoming virtual passengers with an assigned identity and fate. My sister survived the virtual disaster; my son did not.
The Lusitania Peace Memorial in Cobh’s Casement Square commemorates another famous maritime disaster. On May 7, 1915, a German U-boat sank the passenger liner RMS Lusitania, which was on its way from New York to Liverpool. Nearly 1,200 passengers died and 761 survived. Living and dead alike were brought to Cobh, the nearest major port. More than 100 victims of the sinking are buried in the Old Church Cemetery just north of town.
Today, Cobh’s many shops, restaurants, pubs, museums, and attractions make it a delightful place to visit.
The Irish are not reluctant to splash their towns with paint!
Here’s my shadow visiting a minimalist modern art exhibit in the town art gallery. That sqiggly line on the wall is one of the pieces on exhibit. I found the shadows more interesting!
Killarney Town and National Park
After years of hearing Bing Crosby sing “Christmas in Killarney” my sister, Carolyn, was anxious to visit the town. Christmas was approaching, and towns all over Ireland were hanging their holiday decorations.
After such high expectations we were a bit underwhelmed. Killarney and its understated Christmas decorations were nice enough, set amid traffic jams and road construction. But we were expecting something more grand, maybe even spectacular! Where was Bing’s “…prettiest picture you’ve ever seen”?
After wandering the town window shopping, we had lunch in Murphy’s Restaurant. We loved eating in Irish pubs. The fish and chips are grand in each and every one! Here, Carolyn waits for hers.
After lunch we took the long way home through Killarney National Park. It has the most extensive covering of native forest remaining in Ireland.
The park is about 40 square miles of lakes, woodlands, and mountain peaks. At this altitude, the lush green for which Ireland is famous had turned to gold with the coming of autumn.
This site is called Ladies’ View. Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting visited here in 1861. They were so taken with the view that it was named after them.
There is much to see in and around Killarney National Park, including Muckross House and Abbey, Ross Castle, and Torc Waterfall. But we had a long drive home and were losing light, so we had to be content with a drive through the park, stopping whenever we saw something of interest, like this unnamed ruin.
Drombeg Stone Circle
In an isolated part of the southern Ireland countryside, about an hour or so West of Kinsale, lies the prehistoric Drombeg stone circle.
Unlike Stonehenge in England, this ancient site is left open and unattended all the time. It is remarkable that it has stood, undisturbed, for more than 3,000 years. This is not unusual in Ireland. Vandalism and theft are quite rare at ruins and ancient sites.
We had the place to ourselves the whole time we were there.
There is a tradition of leaving offerings on the stone altar at the center of the circle.
Drombeg is also known as the Druid’s Altar. Here my son Joe, who found himself quite moved by the experience, contemplates his offering.
Just north of Cork is the world-famous Blarney Castle. Here visitors can kiss the Blarney Stone to receive the Irish gift of gab. An efficient system has been developed to move tourists through this ritual. As each one lies on his or her back to kiss the stone, a photo is snapped and offered for sale. We chose not to kiss the stone. I already talk too much, and it seems a bit unsanitary. The attendants must chuckle each time someone kisses the stone, since it is part of one of the castle’s garderobes, or latrines.
Blarney Castle is worth a visit, whether or not you kiss the stone. We’ve all grown up seeing pictures of castles, and movies set in castles. Visiting Ireland’s historic castles helps to bring those images to life.
The trip to the top of the castle offers glimpses of the interior. One can see how rooms were arranged, and how the wooden floors were attached to the stone shell of the building.
We visited on a drizzly day in November. The crowds were thinner than in the high season. Best of all, the light mist made all the colors of the beautifully landscaped castle grounds rich and vibrant.
The leaves on the trees were turning from green to a thousand shades of red and gold.
We made frequent trips to Cork for shopping and other errands, since Ireland’s second largest city was less than an hour from our base in Kinsale.
Cork is as Irish as a city can get. During the Irish Civil War it was known as “the real capital” by anti-treaty forces.
Cork is a gritty and industrial river town, but it’s hip and friendly at the same time. The Pogues’ “Dirty Old Town” played in my head whenever I was in Cork… “I met my love by the gasworks wall, dreamed a dream by the old canal…”
I often wandered on foot or by car in search of interesting things to photograph. This horse farm lies just outside of Kinsale.
This farmhouse scene also caught my eye just outside of Kinsale.
The coast is never very far away from most of Ireland. This spot is a couple miles south of Kinsale.
I spotted this boy playing with his family along the rocky coastline. His dirty and disheveled clothing reflects the good time he was having!
This ruin stands at the entrance to the Old Head Golf Club. Old Head is a peninsula that juts out into the Celtic Sea near Kinsale. It was just off this coast that the Lusitania was sunk.
The lighthouse at Old Head is usually inaccessible, except to those who can afford membership in the exclusive golf club. This didn’t stop us from driving inside when we found the gate open and unattended.
It was a bit troublesome that such a spectacular place was normally closed to most visitors. This is not typical of Ireland. We managed to explore for about 20 minutes before being kicked out.
I ran across this lovely country church in Minane Bridge, a little town east of Kinsale.
This view is in the area known as Oysterhaven. I love how all the elements in this photo come together – the rocks, the fence, the water, the green, and the shadows of couds on the hillside.
These cows are resting in their hillside pasture in Oysterhaven.
Detail, iron gate, County Cork, Ireland.
Street scene, Robert’s Cove, County Cork, Ireland.
This is probably the most appealing trailer park I’ve ever seen! Robert’s Cove, County Cork, Ireland.
This statue of the Irish hero Michael Collins stands in Clonakilty, just west of Kinsale. This is near where “The Big Fella” was born and raised, and, sadly, not too far from where he was assassinated. We’ll have lots more about Irish history, ancient and modern, in upcoming posts.
We spent four wonderful weeks in and around Kinsale, three of them with family visiting. This photo was taken by Sarah’s sister, Deas Bohn. It might not look like it, but I am guilty of sharing my snack with the little dog.
As lovely as Kinsale is, we were excited about our next destination: Ireland’s wild and rugged west coast. This photo was taken by my sister, Carolyn Sawyer.
During the next month we would explore the waters of Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen; follow in the footsteps of the famine march; see snow capping St. Patrick’s famous mountain; stroll the Salthill Prom in Galway; make way for sheep in Connemara and Donegal; watch the Atlantic pound the dramatic coast of Ireland’s largest island; listen to live music sessions; and be welcomed into the lives of a lovely Irish family. Join us, won’t you?